Biden visits Chicago on Thursday to promote vaccine mandate for large employers

Facing a looming debt crisis and Democratic divisions over his economic agenda in Washington, President Joe Biden travels to Chicago on Thursday on a rescheduled visit to promote his mandate that large employers require workers to get vaccinated or submit to weekly testing.

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Biden is expected to visit a business in northwest suburban Elk Grove Village that mandates vaccines for employment.

“The president’s message will be clear: Vaccination requirements work,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said of the trip during her daily briefing Wednesday. “Vaccination requirements get more people vaccinated, helping to end the pandemic and strengthen the economy.”

Biden’s second trip to the Chicago region as president comes a week after he canceled a planned appearance here in order to stay in Washington to handle negotiations over raising the debt ceiling and efforts to advance his social and infrastructure economic package.

Both the debt ceiling and his recovery proposals remain mired in the same stalemate that resulted in his earlier decision to cancel.

Congress is under an Oct. 18 deadline to raise the debt ceiling or risk the potential of sending the nation into recession. Republicans want Democrats to alone vote to raise the debt limit, and Biden has indicated support for that. But Democratic congressional leaders are rejecting one option, and some recalcitrant Democrats oppose lifting the filibuster rule to require only a simple-majority Senate vote.

At the same time, discussions continue over Biden’s Build Back Better agenda amid divisions among Democrats over the size and scope of the package. Those divisions also threaten progress on a bipartisan infrastructure bill of more than $1 trillion that also is key to Biden’s economic pandemic recovery efforts.

Biden, who met with top financial leaders at the White House on Wednesday, criticized Republicans for their latest efforts to block a simple-majority vote and warned defaulting on the nation’s debt was “a meteor headed to crash into our economy. We should all want to stop it, stop it immediately. This shouldn’t be partisan.”

Biden said “the United States pays its bills. It’s who we are, it’s who we’ve been, it’s who we’re going to continue to be, God willing,” and he accused Republicans of “playing Russian roulette with the nation’s economy.”

Later Wednesday, Senate Republicans indicated they could go along with a short-term extension of the debt ceiling, pushing off a long-term solution until December. Some congressional Democrats were initially receptive to the idea, but the White House questioned why Congress should “kick the can” down the road when the debt ceiling could be lifted long term now with GOP support.

On both his pandemic efforts and economic agenda, Biden has found a strong supporter in Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker. In recent weeks, members of Biden’s administration have traveled to the state to promote the president’s legislation on issues ranging from child care and early education to affordable housing.

Even as signs appear in some higher vaccinated states, including Illinois, that COVID cases are slowing, the Democratic president has made clear that he views vaccination hesitancy a significant obstacle to restoring the economy and a fuller sense of pre-pandemic normalcy. He has encouraged private businesses to impose their own vaccination mandates aside from his still-pending federal rule.

Biden issued his vaccination mandate Sept. 9 on businesses with 100 or more workers. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration is still putting together rules, and there is no implementation date. It would affect an estimated 80 million Americans.

In issuing the mandate, Biden cited Chicago-based United Airlines as an example of companies taking action. United implemented its requirement for all of its employees in August and said nearly all employees have been vaccinated.

Corporate workers for Chicago-based McDonald’s and Deerfield-headquartered Walgreen’s also face similar company-imposed mandates.

Violation of Biden’s mandate would result in penalties of up to $14,000 per occurrence. The mandate also will require those businesses to provide paid time off for workers to get vaccinated or to recover from the shot.

Biden’s mandate has faced opposition from many Republican governors and some GOP-aligned business groups who have warned of lawsuits to challenge the president’s action.

But in Illinois, Pritzker has made his handling of the pandemic a centerpiece to his reelection campaign next year against prospective Republican challengers who have criticized his mitigation efforts, including mandatory vaccination or testing of health care and education workers and mandatory masking of school students, as usurping personal rights and local control.

Biden’s visit follows a July event the president held at McHenry County College in Crystal Lake to highlight his plan to help working- and middle-class families. The president’s focused on “human infrastructure,” but Chicago’s ongoing struggles to tamp down rampant gun violence emerged as the dominant theme of the day as two federal agents and a Chicago police officer were shot hours before Biden touched down in the city.

rap30@aol.com

bruthhart@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @rap30

Twitter @BillRuthhart

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